After developing her brand in Japan, Rei Kawakubo and her partner Yoshi Yamamoto arrived in Paris from Japan in the early 80s. Although they worked separately, together they created a complete upheaval of the fashion world that would come to be known ‘antifashion’.
The austere and deconstructed nature of antifashion was born from a rebellion against the over-the-top, blingy, flashy fashion of the 1908s. It reflected the political and technological upheaval that the 90s brought, moulding antifashion into a dark, violent and conceptual movement that aimed to annihilate glamour.
Kawakubo first established her brand ‘comme des garcons’ or ‘like boys’ in 1969. The name of the brand is quite literal as she was committed to designing clothes that gave women the freedom of mobility and comfort in their attire. She never designed stilettos nor did she feature then on runways as she designed for the modern, independent woman who didn’t dress for the male gaze. Rei views western ideologies of sexiness, which often relied on exposing the body as boring and actually unsexy. Instead of responding to trends, Kawakubo’s collections were based on concepts, reflecting how her work straddled the line between art and design. The dark and dishevelled appearance of the clothes led to a lot of criticism since it wasn’t what the industry thought women wanted to wear. This lead to the media labelling her work as ‘postatomic’ or ‘Hiroshima chic’.
The 1982 Destroy collection is an excellent example of Kawakubo’s rebellion against the fashion world’s obsession with luxury, flattering silhouettes and the desire to appear glamorous. Instead, she created her own brand of beauty which divided critics of the time. The collection was comprised of garments that were intentionally destroyed, featuring long black skirts and bulky knitwear that was full of holes. These holes were intended to represent her version of lace which I think highlights her drive to be different and constantly original. Despite the ‘bag lady’ aesthetic, the garments were still works of haute couture. Each crease and fold was intentional and exquisitely sewn by hand.
Samples of the 1997 Spring/Summer ready to wear collection.
15 years later in 1997, Kawakubo continued to upset the fashion world with her spring collection titled ‘Body Meets Dress, Dress Meets Body’ which is often referred to as the ‘lumps and bumps’ show. The collection features dresses stuffed with filler and padding which were placed on the body to disrupt the traditional view of what a female’s silhouette should be. Personally, I think this collection most blatantly displays the feminism that runs through Kawakubo’s work since it is defiant against any preconceived idea or opinion of what a woman’s body should look like. This attitude is something that set CDG apart from other fashion houses at the time and Rei is even quoted to say that her clothing was designed for women who ‘pay no attention to their husbands’.
The Japanese designer told Vogue that “it’s our job to question convention” and that “If we don’t take risks, then who will?” Personally, I think that this drive to continue to innovate and challenge is what make Rei Kawakubo a great designer. I really like the way that she rejects the industry’s westernised, outdated and sexist strive for ‘perfection’ but instead creates her own aesthetic that reflects the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi that highlights flawed beauty. Her engagement with all areas of aesthetics in her business from graphic design to the interior design of stores is also something that is really important and reflects that she is talented in many areas and understands all things are part of one larger vision. By doing this I think that she also challenges the idea that artists are often seen as creatively superior to designers. Although when she first started designing many viewed her work as commercially unviable, her long career which continues to flourish today at the age of 76, shows that she has in fact created a vision that many people can get behind.
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